When I was a kid, my mom and I made little dough puffs and filled them with homemade pecan grape chicken salad. I never knew what the puffs were called all I knew was we made them when she had friends over and they were off limits for the kids! I was fascinated by the way they transformed from a glossy dough to airy little puffs. I always managed to sneak one or two while we were making them.
Fast forward many years later and I learned the puffs were pâte à choux (pronounced shoe), a French pastry dough. These delicate beauties can be made sweet or savory. Mix in cheese and herbs to serve alongside a salad or make sandwiches. Fill them with simple whipped cream, ice cream or pastry cream. This is the same dough used to make eclairs.
My family and I love pastry cream and that’s what I’m showcasing in this post. Pastry cream and custard are similar. Pastry cream is more firm than custard because it’s thickened with a starch and custard is thickened with eggs. Subtle but significant.
Let’s make these! Start with the pastry cream to give it time to cool and set up. Homemade pastry cream is decadent! Milk, heavy cream, sugar, egg yolks, salt, butter, vanilla or vanilla bean paste and arrowroot (not pictured).
Heat the cream, milk, vanilla and salt and let cool slightly. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and arrowroot until smooth and add about 1/3 cup of the liquid mixture to the egg mixture and whisk like crazy. Keep adding a little liquid at a time. Do this slowly (it’s called tempering) so you don’t scramble the eggs. Finish adding and whisk until nice and smooth. Return the mixture to the stove and heat and whisk until it’s thick.
Pour the heated mixture through a mesh strainer to make it extra smooth. Whisk in the butter, a piece at a time and it’s finished! Gorgeous! You can use this to make all kinds of desserts or just spoon some into a bowl with fresh berries. Yum! Let it cool to room temp then place a piece of parchment paper right against the cream and place in the fridge.
Moving on to the pâte à choux. Not a lot of ingredients are required. Flour, water, salt, butter and eggs. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Start by bringing the water, butter and salt to a rolling boil. Turn off the heat and add the flour and stir. Turn the heat back on and keep cooking until it’s glossy and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Let it cool for 10 minutes.
Put the slightly cooled mixture into a mixing bowl and add eggs one at a time and mix for at least one minute between eggs. The mixture will all come together when you add the last egg.
You can pipe or scoop the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350°F and bake for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven door.
They’ll puff up beautifully and when you take them out of the oven, turn the heat off, make a tiny slit in each puff and place them back in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove, place on cooling rack and slice them in half to prevent the centers getting soggy.
I like to make a little fresh whipped cream to fold into my pastry cream to make it a little lighter. For the chocolate ganache, simply melt dark chocolate in heavy cream. Lots of cream in these. I’m not apologizing!
It’s finally time to assemble! This would be really fun to do at a party. Put out all of the components and let everyone make their own! I like to put just a dab of chocolate in the bottom shell. Why should the top have all the fun? Then a dollop of cream, top shell and more chocolate on top. My mouth is watering!
Some people top with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and some go the chocolate ganache route. We’re pretty much a chocolate family! However, we woke up to a beautiful covering of fresh snow and I couldn’t resist…
Are you team chocolate or powdered sugar? There’s no wrong answer! I hope you’ll try making these. I love the idea of a make your own Cream Puff for a get together so everyone can let their creativity flow. The puffs are versatile, delicious and I promise everyone who gets a chance to eat one will feel as if they’ve been transported to a special place! Dreamy!
From the heart,
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup + 3 TBSP granulated sugar divided
2 tsp vanilla or vanilla bean paste
¼ tsp salt
5 large egg yolks room temperature
3 TBSP arrowroot powder
4 TBSP unsalted butter softened and cut into pieces
Pâte à choux*
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
4 large eggs
1/2 cup dark chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
- Combine cream, milk, 1/3 cup sugar, vanilla bean, and salt in a medium-sized pan. Place on stovetop over medium heat. Stir frequently until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a separate large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 3 TBSP of sugar. Whisk vigorously for about 15 seconds, until sugar begins to dissolve. Sprinkle arrowroot over egg/sugar mixture and whisk until combined and slightly thickened.
- Once your cream mixture has cooled, slowly drizzle about 1/3 cup of the cream mixture into the egg mixture while whisking constantly (this will temper your eggs and gradually adding the heated cream will prevent them from cooking). Slowly, while still whisking, drizzle in the remainder of your cream mixture until the cream and egg mixture are completely combined.
- Pour mixture back into saucepan and return to stovetop over medium heat. Whisk until thickened.
- Remove from heat and pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer into bowl.
- Whisk in butter, one piece at a time until completely combined.
- Place a piece of parchment directly in contact with the surface of the pastry cream (to prevent a skin from forming). Allow pastry cream to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes or until pastry cream is near room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for at least 2-4 hours before using.
- Optional: make whipped cream to fold into pastry cream and fold it in when ready to assemble.
Pâte à choux
- Place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Combine the water, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan, over medium heat and bring to a rolling boil.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and add the flour all at once, using a spatula to stir quickly and vigorously.
- Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture smooths to a glossy consistency and pulls away from the sides of the pan. The mixture will also steam and cook off some of the water.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool for 10 minutes. The mixture will still be warm but place in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on low speed for 1 minute.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing for 1 full minute between each addition. The mixture will look curdled with the first two eggs. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are mixed evenly. The batter will be smooth and glossy after the last egg is added. Beat for 2 minutes after adding the last egg.
- Pipe or use a cookie scoop, or a level muffin scoop, and drop the thick batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 1/4-cup mounds. Space the mounds about 3″ apart, to allow for expansion.
- Bake the pastries for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes, until pastries are a medium golden brown. Don’t open the oven door while the pastries are baking.
- Turn off the oven and remove the pastries from the oven. Make a small slit in the top of each, and return them to the oven for 5 minutes, to allow the steam to escape. Place them on a rack to cool.
- When the puffs are cool enough to handle, split each in half to make top and bottom pieces; splitting and exposing the centers to air will help keep them from becoming soggy.
- Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the cream until it just begins to steam and simmer. Remove from heat and immediately pour over chocolate. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Allow to sit for 1 minute. After 1 minute stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is glossy. While warm, spoon over cream puffs.
Cream puffs are best served slightly cooled so keep them stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. You can also make everything and allow guests to assemble their own! 🙂